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Selling globally changes the potential market from Canada’s population
of 30 million people to the world’s 6 billion people. Also, Canada is
one of the most export-reliant countries in the world with exports accounting
for approximately 40% of jobs (Team Canada Business Plan 1999-2002). The vast
majority of this trade is with the United States. However, exports to other
regions of the world are growing significantly and will continue to do so.
| Alberta’s Ten Largest Export
Year 2000 ($000,000)
Korea , South
Source: Alberta Economic
IDC data suggest that Canada's share of the global e-commerce market in the
year 2000 was around US$5.5 billion. They estimate the global e-commerce market
will grow to a value of US$3.2 trillion by 2003. If IDC is right, Canada can
expect a typical 2.1 per cent share, which would be worth US$67 billion. IDC
Canada recently projected a compound annual growth rate for Canadian e-business
of 75.5 per cent through 2004.
The value of sales influenced by the Internet is growing. Companies around
the world with established web sites expect the percentage of revenue they
receive from sales, attributable to an Internet presence, to double between
2000 and 2001, from a mean of 4.7% to one of 9.5%.
With such incredible growth predicted in e-business, every Alberta company
today would be wise to consider both a defensive and offensive strategy regarding
the Internet. On the defensive side, each company should be asking how a competitor,
in Alberta or on the other side of the world, might win away your customer
base with the assistance of e-business technologies. Ask the question of yourself,
colleagues, friends and other industry people. What might you do to reduce
the chances of that happening, in a way that your customers will benefit?
The flip side is to think of how a business like yours could more effectively
use the Internet to build closer customer relationships and to grow the business.
Again, you might ask yourself, colleagues, friends, other industry people,
as well as business technology professionals. In today’s world, this
is not an annual or even a monthly question, but a weekly or daily question
you should be asking about your business.
Globalization, Internationalization & Localization
Globalization and internationalization are both terms used to describe the
process of getting your web site to the point that it will be effective in
attracting and facilitating international business. Research indicates that
the attractiveness and usability of a site makes a significant difference in
its effectiveness domestically. New research is showing that the same applies,
but even more dramatically, to when we are trying to tap into markets beyond
Globalizing a web site involves getting clear answers to questions, such
- What specific product(s) or service(s) am I offering?
- Who is my target market?
- What will attract buyers to my web site?
- What will keep them coming back to my web site?
- How can I make my web site functional for my target market?
- How can I make the process from first interest to purchase a smooth, pleasant
and rewarding process for my customers?
Two challenges are:
- How to learn what a target market customer really does want in my web
How to take into account the fact that people are different everywhere
so how can you satisfy the world in one web site.
- Ask potential customers in the target market
- Research online
- Search out other businesses that have been effective in your target market
- Ask the professionals
- Very closely monitor the calls and the orders you receive. Make adjustments
based on what seems to work better than something else.
- This comes down to balancing how unique you can make the user’s
experience with how much you are willing to pay for that uniqueness
- The topics of web site globalization and localization are explored below.
To answer these questions, it is helpful to speak with professionals who have
studied these topics. But like anything that is central to your business, you
should be asking the same questions and finding satisfaction with the answers.
Currency for payment
Taxes and customs
Use of colours, graphics and fonts
Localization of a web site refers to making it suitable for a particular market.
To localize a site for France, for example, could include using French language,
graphics and symbols and accepting French currency. In its finest form, the
company would have a French office with a local shipping address, local phone
number and a web address that ends in the French country code “.fr”.Typically,
only large multi-national corporations are able to go to this extent for multiple
countries. Over time, this type of presence may become easier for small and
medium sized companies.
The next level of web site has numerous target market countries listed on
the site. When the potential customer clicks on his or her country, up comes
the site in the user’s native language with information, products along
with an order fulfillment and support process that is relevant to that market.
Language and the Internet
The autumn of 2000 represented a linguistic turning point in the make-up of
web users. Non-native English speakers became the majority of users. The ratio
of native English speakers on the web will continue to fall as more people
outside of the “Anglo” world get “connected.”
A Maclean’s magazine report in the year 2000 suggested that by the year
2007 Chinese may become the number one web language. It suggested that there
will be more native Chinese speakers using the web by that time than native
Today 78 percent of all web sites and 96 percent of all e-commerce sites are
in English. These percentages are anticipated to drop over time as well.
It would be convenient for us if our global customers would communicate with
us and do business with us in English. But the golden rule in business is not
what is best for us, but rather what is best for the customer. What does the
customer want? If s/he has a choice of 5 suppliers for a product or service,
what will the decision-making criteria be? Price, quality and service will
all be factors. But so will less tangible qualities like comfort, satisfaction
According to analysts from Forrester Research “people are twice as likely
to stay at a given site, and three times as likely to do business there if
the site communicates content in their own language and culture.”
English Only (for now)
If you have only one or two target country markets, such as Japan or Brazil,
then it may be well worthwhile to add one or two languages. But be aware that
it takes more than just translating the words to a new language. The other
issues of value differences, social customs, currencies, payment, graphics,
symbols, etc. need to be considered as well.
For the company that is beginning to explore global markets via their web
site, but not ready to commit the resources to a multi-language globalized
site, there are many considerations that can help to make the site less offensive
and more attractive.
Keep It Simple
The majority of buyers don’t care about flashy graphics. They look for
clear and easy-to-find information, presented in a way they feel good about.
As most web users are non-native English speakers, use simple, concise and
clear language. Friends or acquaintances who are not native English speakers
can be asked to review the site. How clear is the message and how enticing
do they find it?
Stylized fonts may be unfamiliar to many people, thus reducing comprehension.
Easy-to-read fonts and backgrounds are best.
Slang and figures of speech are such a part of our language that we are rarely
aware of the confusion they can cause. A quick search of web sites turned up
the following terms—“getting to the point”, “the bottom
line”, “going off track”, and “kazillion dollars”.
The first three figures of speech carry multiple meanings. One would not likely
find “kazillion” in the dictionary.
Sports terms are best avoided. “Getting to first base”, “hitting
out” with a product, or “scoring a touchdown” can all cause
While humour can play a valuable role in building rapport and closer relationships,
the pitfalls are so many across cultures, it is best to save it for your face-to-face
meetings (and then still use caution). The opportunities to confuse or offend
are endless, since what makes something funny is typically a play on words,
negative comparisons, double meanings, and/or subtlety.
What may be perceived as minor profanity in our culture, can be highly offensive
to others. Avoid the use of swear words.
To truly understand potential clients, it helps to recognize value
differences that may exist. Our judgment of what is polite or rude,
good or bad, right or wrong, in given situations is going to be different.
This is based primarily on how we were taught by the society in which we
One important value difference in e-commerce is how we have learned to communicate.
We can view differences as opposite ends of a continuum.
Direct and Indirect Communication
Of the world’s cultures, Canada tends to line up on the more direct
end of the communication continuum. While we may be proud of “getting
to the point” and not “beating around the bush” as a sign
of effective communication, others may find us blunt to the point of rudeness.
Doing global e-business, the balance must be found between being politely
clear and concise in our message versus sounding blunt and aggressive.
Expressiveness of Communication
Some of the world’s people prefer expressive, personal communication,
while others use a more controlled and impersonal style. In face-to-face conversation,
an expressive approach might include voices raised in joy or anger, large arm
gestures and a smaller distance separating two speakers.
The relevance to web design might apply to boldness and colour. Text that
is bolded, in italics, flashing or shimmering might come across as “shouting” to
Recent research on colour preferences of web sites show Nordic countries preferring
subtler colour shades, Americans brighter colours while sub-Sahara African
and Caribbean cultures tend to like the boldest colours.
An American computer company encountered problems when it launched an e-commerce
site to sell PCs in Japan. Designers had surrounded most of the content with
black borders—which communicates negativity in Japanese culture.
Green is a popular colour in Islamic countries as it represents the colour
of heaven. White is the colour of mourning in many places.
A study done in the U.K. last year showed how computer interface colour preferences
vary by nationality. English students used pastel color schemes with a lot
of grey and low contrast. Scandinavian students tended toward dark colours
also with low contrast. Students with a Jamaican background chose strong and
bright colours with high contrasts and combined them into very colourful schemes.
African students usually chose black as the ground color and added some brighter
colours. European and U.S.-American students basically chose a bright background,
black text and a few moderately colorful objects.
The message here is that it is worth researching the markets you are trying
to reach to ensure your web site is designed with them in mind. If targeting
multiple countries and regions with one site, then avoid extremes.
Formal and Informal Communication
Albertans typically like an informal approach to communication and business.
This is reflected in dropping official titles, using first names and preferring
a round of golf with a client rather than a fancy dinner.
Following protocol is much more important in many parts of the world. Showing
respect by using proper titles and greetings provide an important foundation
for a business relationship. A web site reflects your image to the world.
Just as within Canada, significant generational differences exist around the
world. As a rule, the older generation will prefer a more formal, respectful
approach. Think of the potential buyers in your target markets.
Other important value differences to consider include the following:
Recognizing that potential global customers may have a very different view
of the organizational hierarchy can help us work more effectively with them.
Who within the organizational structure will be most influential in making
the buying decision? How can we show proper respect to each level that we come
into contact with? In more hierarchical business structures, titles, status
and formal position command significant respect.
Change vs. Tradition
We may be tempted to sell our product or service on the basis of it being
the latest, greatest, or new and improved. In societies that place high value
on history and tradition, another tactic could be taken. Our offering could
be positioned within the context of our target market’s history and traditions.
Similarly, it is helpful to have historical and background information on
our company, people and products available on our site for those who do want
Short or Long-Term Benefits
We tend to position our products or services in terms of the benefits they
can bring to the customer in the short term. Our business culture often demands
payback to be within one year of purchase. For cultures that view the longer
term, it is advantageous to also describe the longer-term rewards of the product,
service or business relationship.
Individual or Group Buyer
A product enticement locally might be around the benefits the use of a product
can bring to the buyer or user of the product. “With this product your
life will be easier, more productive, more satisfying...” “It will
make you a hero or envied by others.”
In more collective cultures, this may actually turn off potential buyers as
too shallow and self-serving. A more appropriate appeal might be to the success
the product with bring to the family, the work group, the company, the community,
and perhaps even to the nation.
In North America, we have traditionally been more comfortable doing business
with people we don’t know than with people from other world regions.
In some local situations, we may have no personal relationship with our customer,
it is “strictly business.” In others, we may develop a more personal
relationship once we have been doing business for a while.
Much of the world’s population however, is used to personal relationships
preceding any business relationship. Internet-based business would seem to
be as about impersonal as it can get.
Yet one Alberta-based business claims that its growth in international business
coming via their Internet site is precisely due to personal customer service.
This company makes a point of making telephone contact with everyone who contacts
them via their web site. Needs are better understood, rapport is built and
a personalized customer relationship is developed. They have figured out how
essential working on building a relationship is to continued business success
Alberta’s business style is also rule-based. Legal contracts once drawn
up and are considered the cornerstone of the business relationship. Success
is seen to come from following the contract to the letter. This objective and
rational approach is seen to serve everyone’s interest the best.
In many other countries, while rules are important, it is the relationship
that is viewed as more important. Contracts may be seen as helpful guidelines
that can easily be modified as circumstances change. Success is seen to come
from placing the relationship first. This process can be very subjective.
Limits to Flexibility
While wanting to understand and be flexible regarding our customers’ values,
there is also a place for inflexibility. It’s important to know what
is legal and what is illegal. When it comes to business ethics, a helpful document
is the International Code of Ethics for Canadian Business, http://www.transparency.ca/Readings/TI-C02.htm.
Social and Religious Customs
The religious and social customs of people are tremendously diverse. For example,
the photo of a woman on our web site might seem completely innocuous to most
people in Canada. But if the photo were of a woman in a sleeveless shirt, then
a great many people in other societies would take exception. This is considered
too revealing by some religious standards. Avoid putting anything on your site
that might remotely be perceived as pornographic unless that is your business.
Be cautious in the use of a national flag or national colours on a web site.
What might begin as a gesture to create goodwill, may end up doing the opposite
if national symbols are perceived as being inappropriately displayed.
Business laws and norms vary from country to country. For example, free offers,
special discounts, shipping and product guarantees may need to be adjusted
for different markets.
Be aware that in many parts of Europe and elsewhere, the meaning of a decimal
and comma in numbers is reversed to our usage. A decimal is used to indicate
thousands and the numbers following a comma can indicate “cents” (e.g.
3,165 meters in Canada, may be written as 3.165 meters in many countries of
Weights and measures can be on the metric or imperial system. Which do your
customers prefer? Can you satisfy both needs?
The required language(s) on products shipped varies from country to country.
Canada must have English and French. What about your target country or region?
It is important to clarify whether any pricing listed is in Canadian or U.S.
dollars. If Canadian dollars are used it will be helpful to have a currency
converter available to site users.
Cultural Competence—Added Benefit
By addressing the many questions raised in this article, a web site can be
made more globally effective. Working through these questions will also provide
valuable preparation for direct interactions with international customers.
Whether communicating by telephone, e-mail, fax, or face-to-face, these cultural
considerations will improve communications and business rapport.
Cultural difference is not just an international experience. Canada and Alberta’s
cultural mix continue to grow. By preparing our sites for more effective global
e-business, we may see its positive impact on domestic business as well.
Remember that your web site is available to everyone in the world. So, if
your primary target market is Japan, and you tailor the colours, language,
symbols and content to the Japanese, it may look very strange to someone viewing
it from Spain. You are probably best to either have a section of the web site
that Japanese can click into or keep the site more generic.
Much of what is described above has to do with unique buyer wants, needs and
motivations. Do your homework on your target market(s) and adjust your web
site accordingly. The best indicator of the success of your web site will always
be the results it delivers.